[SIGCIS-Members] Is it a myth that David Letterman had a Top Ten List about the Pentium bug?

Brian Berg brianberg at gmail.com
Thu Aug 13 18:33:36 PDT 2020

I recall hearing that David Letterman broadcast myself, and there was a lot
of buzz about it afterward as well.  I double-checked with Dave Patterson:

From: David PATTERSON <pattrsn at cs.berkeley.edu>
Date: Thu, Aug 13, 2020 at 5:41 PM
Subject: Re: Pentium Bug Really in a Letterman Top 10 List?
To: Brian Berg <brianberg at gmail.com>

Yes. I heard it myself.

On Thu, Aug 13, 2020 at 3:25 PM Brian Berg <brianberg at gmail.com> wrote:

> Dave,
> Your 1999 edition of *Computer organization and design: the
> hardware/software interface* states on p. 306: "The Pentium
> floating-point divide bug even made the 'Top 10 List" of the David
> Letterman Late Show on television."
> This does not seem to be included at
>  https://www.oocities.org/jaylipp/Letterman/topten99.html
> Was this an accurate statement?
> Thanks, Brian Berg

On Wed, Aug 12, 2020 at 10:06 AM Ellen Spertus <spertus at mills.edu> wrote:

> According to the popular computer architecture textbook *Computer
> Organization and Design *by Turing Award winners John Hennessy and David
> Patterson:
> The Pentium floating-point divide bug even made the "Top 10 List" of the *David
>> Letterman Late Show* on television.
> I have been unable to verify this. The bug was reported in October 1994
> and remained in the news until early 1995. I could find nothing relevant in
> the Top Ten List Archive for late 1994
> <http://www.mudslide.net/TopTen/lswd1994.html> or early 1995
> <http://www.mudslide.net/TopTen/lswd1995.html>. In early January, there
> was the Top Ten Signs You Bought a Bad Computer
> <http://www.cbs.com/latenight/lateshow/top_ten/archive/ls_topten_archive1995/ls_topten_archive_19950105.shtml>,
> but it has no mention of Intel or math.
> I did find a Master's thesis
> <https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc278276/m2/1/high_res_d/1002656820-burns.pdf>
> that cites Jarrett in saying that "David Letterman included a  Pentium™
> joke in his nightly monologue":
> Jarrett, Jim. "A Postmortem on the Pentium Processor Crisis." Unpublished
>> manuscript prepared for lnteleads, 1994.
> I cannot find this document, however, and Jim Jarrett passed away in 2012
> <https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/mercurynews/obituary.aspx?n=james-jarrett&pid=156322551>
> .
> There is a satirical Top Ten list
> <http://www.polylith.com/~jerparks/jokes/Intel.shtml>:
> 9.9999973251 - Your old PC is too accurate.
>> 8.9999163362 - Provides really good alibi when the IRS calls.
>> 7.9999414610 - Attracted by Intel's new You don't need to know what's
>> inside ad campaign.
>> 6.9999831538 - It redefines computing -- and mathematics!
>> 5.9999835137 - You've always wondered what it would be like to be a
>> plaintiff.
>> 4.9999999021 - Current paperweight not big enough.
>> 3.9998245917 - Takes concept of floating point to a whole new level.
>> 2.9991523619 - You always round off to the nearest hundred anyway.
>> 1.9999103517 - Got a great deal from Jet Propulsion Laboratory!
>> And the number one reason to buy a Pentium:
>> 0.9999999998 - It'll probably work!
> The same page <http://www.polylith.com/~jerparks/jokes/Intel.shtml>
> includes this joke:
> "You know what goes great with those defective Pentium chips?
>> Defective Pentium salsa!" (David Letterman)
> I conclude that David Letterman joked about the Pentium in a monologue
> (although I have only circumstantial evidence) not in a Top Ten List.
> This is my first foray into computing history. Please let me know if you
> have additional information, if my reasoning is unsound, or if I should do
> anything besides notifying the authors and publisher. (I'm acquainted with
> David Patterson but would not cold email John Hennessy.)
> Ellen Spertus
> Professor of Computer Science
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